Wrangling rock stars in the music industry requires the same skill set as teaching a roomful of third graders. Maybe that’s why the transition was an easy one for me.
When I attended college, I did so with an intense love of learning. I was the first in my family to get a degree. Not knowing what to focus my energies on, I got a Liberal Arts Degree and even wrote my own area of focus. While studying in London for a semester, I attended lots of concerts and met some people in the music business. When I got back to San Francisco, I decided that I wanted to follow this career path. Cut to the chase, and I worked for fifteen years following one of my passions–I worked on the radio, for record labels in Los Angeles, for award shows, and more. I worked in public relations, promotion, and marketing. I spent time in a department called “artist relations.” So, lots of “wrangling rock stars.”
I got married, had a son, and didn’t work outside the home, but when he was heading to kindergarten I wanted to go back to work. I registered him for school and asked if they were hiring paraprofessionals. I was hired on the spot and spent the next two years working part-time as a literacy para for DPS. At the beginning of the second year, a colleague tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You have a gift with the children and you need to be a teacher.” She told me about the Stanley Teacher Prep program, that merged with the Boettcher Teacher Residency in 2015 to become the PEBC Teacher Residency program. I applied, was accepted, worked hard for nine months, and got my license.
The thing I most appreciated about the program was that the focus was on developmentally appropriateness, joy, curiosity, and engagement. These stuck with me. If you can’t engage students in what you’re teaching, you’ve lost your “audience” and it’s all for nothing. Rope them in, develop a sense of wonder and curiosity, and THEN you can teach them.
My first full-time teaching job was in Aurora Public Schools. I worked at Fletcher Elementary for a decade, teaching fourth grade. During those years, the school became the second pilot (innovation) school in the district and I took on leadership roles during the switch and was elected the chairperson. I loved working with the students and families at this school. I’m not sure who learned more, me or them!
After 10 years, I heard of a job opening at the school where I was formerly a para., which is also in the neighborhood where I live. I applied and got the job teaching third graders. I had come full-circle. Park Hill Elementary has now been “home” for six years. I was recently nominated for a “curiosity” award by my principal and won a contest from noosa Yoghurt which gave Colorado educators a platform to share their stories on the ways in which they have addressed this year’s unique challenges (2020-21). I sent them photographs of my many “characters” that I use in my Math Seesaw online videos. I have “Professor Higgenbothom” and “Lori Poppins.” I have about 10 different wigs. I knew that this year was tough on these eight- and nine-year-old students and I just wanted to make them laugh every day, all the while learning some new math skills.
I still have a piece of paper that I created on my last day with the teacher preparation program. We were asked to write down our goal for our new career. Mine said, “I want children to be curious and wonder about the world around them.” My two favorite words are curious and wonder. If I can instill a sense of wonder in the students, then they will want to learn on their own. I won’t always be around to teach them, so my goal is for them to be curious and find the answers themselves. I believe that the program allowed me to lead my teaching with fun, play, and developmentally appropriate vehicles through which young children learn best. It was obviously a good match for my style.
Goals? I want to stay engaged and energized. I can’t believe that I’ve almost finished my 16th year. My goal is to hit 20 and see how I feel. I would say to people considering a career in education that it is definitely a calling. You’re going to work long hours and it will be challenging, but if you look at the children’s faces and see those “ah-ha” moments happen, you will go to bed each night exhausted, but you will know that you are making a difference, every day.
Lori Gates is a Stanley Teacher Prep program alumna who teaches third grade at Park Hill Elementary School in Denver. Stanley Teacher Prep merged with the Boettcher Teacher Residency in 2015 to become the PEBC Teacher Residency program. Click here to learn more about the PEBC Teacher Residency program.